Burn out is a common phrase I hear from many of my clients, especially in recent years. We’re all familiar with the term burn-out and what that might look like for us as individuals. For some, it’s a feeling of complete exhaustion – simply getting out of bed in the morning feels like it takes more than you have. For others, it’s getting caught in a cycle of negative thinking. No matter what burn out looks like for you, it always leads to a reduced efficacy in your personal and/or professional life.
That’s why I’ve asked my friend Karyn, who works as an executive leadership coach to talk with us today about how she personally worked through her own burnout journey.
A Personal Story of Professional Burnout
It was just after 2 am on a Tuesday morning, at a regular meeting of our Board of Directors. It was the norm that I had been at work since 8 am the previous morning, now waiting to talk to the Board about confidential negotiations, making recommendations for decisions that would cost the company millions, while the Board members and I were exhausted. I would be in the office again before our Tuesday, 9 am senior leadership meeting. I’d been doing this for nine years, and it never occurred to me how unreasonable it was. This particular night was different, though.
A new CEO had been appointed a couple months prior, and he and I were like oil and water in terms of work style. He wanted to weigh in on each step of our internal processes and projects, and I usually (okay, always) needed the pressure of a deadline to produce the work. The CEO was always happy with my ultimate work product, but my process to get there made him very uncomfortable and frustrated.
Bordering on Burnout
That night, a board member asked me an unexpected question at the meeting. Tired, stressed, everyone looking at me, I couldn’t answer. I knew I knew the answer, but literally nothing came to mind at that moment. As I stumbled through the rest of my presentation, I had this very clear recognition that I would need to leave this job. And two days later, the CEO asked me to resign, saying that it just wasn’t working.
He was right, but in reality, it hadn’t been working for years. My job felt all-consuming, and it seemed we went from one emergency to the next, day after day. I worked at least 60 hours a week. I had almost no personal life outside of work. I lost many of my friends, just from my having neglected the relationships. My relationships with my family were strained, and my sister pointed out that when she asked how I was, my reply was always, “work is crazy.” Without noticing, I had given up the volunteer work I used to love and let go of the hobbies I used to enjoy. All of my time at the office meant I also gave up exercising and cooking for myself, meaning that my health suffered as well. In the middle of this, I truly didn’t see what my life had become, and how burned out I was.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caused by chronic stress, often related to work demands, expectations and pressures. It can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed, underappreciated, or unsupported.
Burnout can have serious consequences for your health, happiness and performance. You may feel tired, irritable, anxious or depressed. You may lose interest and motivation in things that used to bring you joy. You may get headaches or have insomnia, or find you get sick more often. You may feel detached or isolated from your family, friends, or colleagues. You may struggle to balance your work and personal life, finding that work always seems to win out. Burnout can have a negative impact on your work performance and the quality of the work you’re capable of. You may make errors, miss deadlines, or find yourself in conflict with your coworkers. You may feel trapped, hopeless and helpless.
For many of us who care deeply about our work, burnout is a risk. Whether you’re looking for ways to ensure your life stays in balance and you stay out of burnout, or you’re there already and looking for help, the prevention and the solution are the same:
- Identify stressors that you can influence or eliminate. For example, you might ask to talk with your boss to prioritize work projects, or you might decide to pay a neighbor kid to take your trash cans out every week if you regularly beat yourself up for forgetting it’s trash day.
- Set healthy boundaries and expectations for yourself. Say no to requests for your time or effort when you can. For example, you may want to decline a request to organize a bake sale for the neighbor’s kid’s project if it won’t bring you joy and fulfillment. Ask for help when you need it and let go of the idea that you can do it all yourself.
- Use your time and energy wisely. In the moment, it may feel like an escape from work stress to binge-watch reality tv, but it probably won’t bring your life into greater balance. Prioritize things that are essential, important and/or urgent. Delegate or outsource when it makes sense to do so. Take breaks if you feel overwhelmed or tackle the tasks in more manageable chunks.
- Take care of yourself and your wellness. Ensure your physical, mental and emotional needs are met consistently. Eat, sleep and exercise in the way that best serves your body and participate in hobbies or activities that recharge or inspire you.
- Lean into positive relationships and social support systems. Family members, friends, mentors or the members of groups you’re part of likely understand and can support you. Seek professional counseling or coaching for more in-depth help.
- Remember the real you. Rediscover your passions and talents. Celebrate your successes. Hold a clear vision of the balanced life you want.
As for me, years later, my life feels completely different, but it took help to get here. Help from a counselor, mentors and a coach who sees me better than I see myself. It still comes up now and then. When I started my own business, for example, I realized that I had unconscious beliefs that I could only be successful if I worked as many hours as I used to, or that I could only be productive if I had an external deadline imposed on me. Just last year I discovered that I believed deep down that work would always be the vast majority of my life, with any slivers leftover available for a personal life. I’ve now adopted the philosophy that work is just a small part, while important and rewarding, but not more important than my health, family and my contributions to the world overall. And I no longer take meetings in the middle of the night.
A Final Note From Lucy
Whenever I’m working with a hypno-coaching clients, I encourage them to ask themselves “What are you learning from your burnout? What is it trying to tell you?”
You might also have a dialogue with your burnout so that instead of being enemies, you can learn how to become allies in your healing journey.
Take a moment to thank yourself in seeking out this knowledge. Understanding your own burnout will lead you to coming home to yourself and your strengths, to setting stronger and better emotional boundaries and ultimately more joy and happiness in your life. Connecting your work with your core sense of purpose and values is ultimately the most effectively way to rebuild yourself after burnout and to bring you into better and more sustainable alignment and ultimately to feel more fulfilled and positive.
And of course you might also consider hypnotherapy as another tool to overcome burnout. Hypnotherapy can aid you into learning how to live in the present versus focusing on the future in a relaxed manner, and to feeling more in control of your feelings and thoughts.
Whatever step you take, I’m proud of you for taking it. You’ve got this!
Karyn Ezell is a certified executive leadership coach, with expertise in the for-profit, nonprofit and government sectors. Her background as a corporate executive includes experience in human resources, strategic planning, communications and administrative operations of both large and small organizations.